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Towards a coherent, consistent and effective approach to change and transformation – Total Transformation


Change and transformation are hard, we get that. Whether it be a simple change initiative, such as improving a referral form or a major transformation programme, such as integrating various services to operate as a coherent whole, questions around who’s vision are we working to; who’s buying into this vision; who might we be upsetting by these plans; how do we intend to embed the vision sustainably; how can we ensure everyone’s voice is heard; how do we ensure everyone understands their role in the plans; how do we encourage people to feel safe and supported; amongst other things are key to managing successful processes of change and transformation.


Clearly, the bigger the project or programme the more complex the explorations and solutions to these questions will be. But even the smallest of projects, such as the updated referral form, will need buy-in if it’s to deliver the impact desired.  


You’ll notice most of the questions listed above relate to the people who’ll be affected by the change, whether they be those accessing services or those delivering and/or leading them.


However, our own research points to an issue whereby many change and transformation programmes don’t spend nearly enough time considering the people in the process of change and instead focus on structural aspects such as creating dashboards, developing online portals, introducing new policies and procedures, creating new teams or building new….well, buildings. These structural responses to change may be absolutely essential to the successful delivery of the project, but without understanding how people will relate to, be affected by, or respond to them, we’ll often notice that change attempts will be doomed to failure.


And most people understand this.


So why do we see such a tendency to focus on structural rather than people aspects of change?


Because people are messy and complex, while structural responses are consistent, simple, objective and tangible. You know if you’ve created a new policy, dashboard or building, it’s clear for everyone to see, you can feel it and it evidences product and outputs.


On the other hand, if you invest the same resource into 10 people, you’re very likely to get 10 different responses or outcomes. For busy people already struggling to maintain business-as-usual operations, its far more appealing to focus on the tangible and objective rather than on people who may surprise you in the results they provide – even if the tangible and objective fail to create the shifts in thinking and behaviour often needed to embed change.


It's, in part, for this reason we see the oft-quoted ‘70% of change programmes around the world fail’.


So, do we just accept that change is hard, and put up with failure?


Well no, not really.


We developed our Total Transformation approach to respond to this issue and make it simpler for change programmes to map out the attention and focus paid to the full range of necessary considerations.


We start by identifying four clear elements in the process of change: leadership, strategy, structure and people.


Put simply, we support leaders and leadership groups to agree the clear and tangible vision for change and, importantly, explicitly communicate the permissions to everyone to work in new ways to make the vision a reality.


We then work with organisations to agree their approach to delivering the vision. For ourselves we’re keen to see the development of ‘learning organisations’ through ‘knowledge-based’ and ‘learning-based’ strategies. That’s because effective change needs to have an answer to the need to accommodate what people, in all their complexities, bring to the process of change. We also support organisations to map their external and internal environments, which allows them to identify and understand the additional strategies necessary for realising their vision. These strategies might involve allocating specific resources, creating partnerships, outsourcing activities, pivoting to a new set of organisational priorities, etc.


While structural responses tend to be the first port of call for many change projects and programmes, by creating a thread from vision, through strategy, we can then identify structural responses that enable the realisation of the vision, rather than being the change response in themselves.


Finally, it’s important to recognise and value the complexities that people bring, rather than trying to ignore or avoid this, or force everyone into one singular way of thinking and behaving. This is where our Collaborative Knowledge Networks(CKNs) come into play. These are spaces, endorsed by the organisation (the permissions) for people from all levels of the organisation to come together, recognise the value and legitimacy of their own knowledge and experience, and develop the confidence to share and interact with each other so they begin to generate their own new knowledge around the focus of change. This new knowledge, generated by the people involved, becomes the vehicle for change, greatly increasing levels of buy-in and so chances that the focus of change becomes embedded sustainably.


We call this approach Total Transformation because it maps and supports the implementation of change from vision to mobilisation and creates the cultural shifts necessary to realise changes in thinking and behaviour often missing for more regular approaches to change.

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